Long Island universities and colleges, in a push to stay competitive, plan to spend at least $321 million to build and renovate campus housing to bolster enrollment and ramp up out-of-town recruiting.
New housing for more than 1,500 students is included in the construction, development and renovation in the works at both public and private institutions: New York Institute of Technology, Molloy College, Stony Brook University, Touro Law Center, Farmingdale State College, Hofstra University, Adelphi University and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
Reasons for the expansion are varied, college officials said. Admissions offices are seeking students from farther away, a necessary move as Long Island's native college-age population is projected to drop during the next decade. The supply of affordable housing is tight and rules about off-campus rentals are strict -- the Town of Brookhaven, notably, has cracked down on landlords who illegally rent single-family homes.
National experts point to the impact that on-campus living has on the college experience and academic achievement.
"We and others are acutely aware of the market and, obviously, we are always trying to improve the academic offerings. But we have to make other investments to keep our enrollment stable," said Leonard Aubrey, NYIT chief financial officer, who is heading the project to build the 49-year-old Old Westbury campus' first dormitories. "These are important steps to position us for the future."
A boom in residential beds
Molloy College in Rockville Centre, Stony Brook University and Touro Law Center in Central Islip also are in various stages of planning and building, adding hundreds of residential beds. At Farmingdale State College, housing for this fall is in such high demand that some students will live in a hotel on Route 110.
Officials at Adelphi University in Garden City, Hofstra University in Hempstead and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point say their residential supply meets demand. Still, they are spending millions to update dorms and other housing to enhance the on-campus experience.
NYIT's proposal is before the villages of Old Westbury and Brookville, where some residents are concerned about noise and traffic the expansion would bring.
The $93 million plan is for seven buildings, including four four-story residence halls with a total of 699 beds. Depending on the length of the approval process, the school hopes to break ground at the beginning of 2015.
About 400 NYIT students now live in aging dorms at the College of Old Westbury and depend on daily shuttle service between the two campuses. While the agreement with the state school has worked well since 2005, it isn't the ideal experience for NYIT's students.
"There is no campus life for those students," Aubrey said.
At Molloy, about 11 miles to the south, campus housing has played an important role in driving transformation of the student body, officials said.
The college celebrated a major milestone in 2011 when it opened its first 173-bed student residence hall, which filled immediately. A second, 99-bed dorm building, scheduled to open this fall, is expected to be occupied just as quickly.
The 4,200-student school, founded in 1955 by the Sisters of St. Dominic, had historically been attended mainly by day students who lived in towns along Nassau County's South Shore and in eastern Queens.
In each of the last three years, because of recruiting efforts and the campus housing, Molloy officials have seen a sharp rise in the number of students living on campus who were from beyond a commutable distance -- either from out of state, upstate or eastern Suffolk County. In the first year, the increase was 17 percent, in the second year, 33 percent, and in this academic year, 45 percent, they said.
"These residence halls have changed who comes to Molloy," president Drew Bogner said. "We have students from Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, California, Rhode Island, Vermont, Florida, Michigan and Texas -- plus upstate New York and out east on Long Island.
"We looked at the changing demographics and realized we must be able to recruit from beyond our traditional boundaries," he said.
Kevin Law, the Long Island Association president, said population trends in Nassau and Suffolk counties are shifting, and "we need to be doing everything we can to keep our young people."
"We are not growing and not having as many babies as we used to, and our younger generation is moving off Long Island," Law said. "It is good news that they are building new dorms. It allows Long Island students who want the campus experience to stay here, and it helps attract students from outside the region who, of course, don't have the option of commuting."
Dorms an economic plus
Law said the effect on the local economy should be a positive one for retail and other businesses. "There will be a ripple and multiplier effect in not only construction dollars -- but once students are living there, their disposable dollars as well. It will certainly strengthen our economy," he added.
Nationally, the reasons for building include meeting students' needs, giving them more choices and encouraging campus life, according to a 2012 survey by the Association for College and University Housing Officers, the most recent available.
In responses from more than 300 colleges and universities nationwide, the survey found 69 percent of schools were building campus housing to meet the needs and interests of students, 47 percent were trying to increase the variety of housing options, and 42 percent wanted to increase the percentage of undergraduates housed on-campus. In high-cost urban areas where off-campus housing is expensive, the colleges tend to get more interest in campus living from juniors and seniors, the report said.
Encouraging students to live on campus, particularly at schools that traditionally have drawn commuters, is a good way to create a positive experience and raise student achievement, said Tom Ellet, president-elect of the Ohio-based student housing organization.
"The more students are connected to their peers, the more they have a sense of affinity to the school, the more they are connected to the campus, the better the retention and academic success," said Ellet, who also is senior associate vice president for student affairs at New York University in Manhattan.
In addition, he said, "International families aren't going to send their kid if they aren't guaranteed housing."
Ellet said the local economy would see some impact, but students are likely to spend most of their money on campus.
As a whole, Long Island has a rental vacancy rate of 4.3 percent, below the 6.7 percent vacancy rate for the combined New York region suburbs, according to a September study by the New York City-based Regional Plan Association.
The schools in Suffolk County appear to be most affected by residential shortages.
Stony Brook University has battled a chronic housing crunch for decades. Even as the largest residential campus in the entire SUNY system -- and one of the largest in the Northeast -- the university has a wait-list of more than 500 students at the beginning of each academic year.
About 400 double rooms are tripled-up. A university policy also limits the amount of time students can live on-campus to eight semesters.
In two to three years, the situation will change: With its Toll Drive project, Stony Brook plans to build 759 beds of new residence-hall capacity, scheduled to open in 2016, said Dallas Bauman, assistant vice president for campus residences.
The $150 million project includes two residence halls -- one of 303 beds, the other of 456 beds -- and a 60,000-square-foot dining facility.
That will bring the total campus housing inventory above 10,300 beds -- still less than half of Stony Brook's 24,000 students.
"Demand still continues to outstrip supply. Growth in enrollment is a factor, but it isn't the only factor," said Bauman, who credited nicer, more frequently renovated dorms and a sense of community built by grouping students based on interest.
Compounding the on-campus housing shortage is a dramatic drop in the number of off-campus rentals, in part due to a recent Town of Brookhaven crackdown on landlords illegally renting out single-family homes. Fines were imposed and some landlords were brought to court.
Bauman said university officials support various plans by developers to build more high-density housing near the Stony Brook Long Island Rail Road station and in downtown Port Jefferson.
At Farmingdale State College, where enrollment is at a record level of nearly 8,000 students, administrators are deciding whether to add the needed 200 new residential spots through renovation of an older building or construction of a new one.
Already, officials said about 40 of the school's international students will live at the Courtyard by Marriott on Route 110, just south of campus, beginning with the fall semester.
The college may begin restricting initial room selection to students who are in good academic standing or to those whose homes are at least 40 miles from campus. There is no limit to the number of semesters a student can live on-campus, but the college may consider such a policy, Farmingdale officials said.
At Touro Law Center, Dean Patricia Salkin said officials have been working with architects to design student housing since the school moved to Central Islip, in 2007. The school declined to give details about the plans.
The residences will be for regional, national and international students, she said.
"We have been in discussions with national and international universities to develop programs that will bring additional students to Long Island to study law at Touro," Salkin said. "This project is critical to those relationships as well."
Stony Brook University. $150 million project that will add 759 beds. First phase expected to be completed in 2016.
New York Institute of Technology. $93 million project to build four dorm buildings that will include 699 beds. Plan is before the villages of Old Westbury and Brookville.
Molloy College. $9 million project gives the campus its second dorm building with 99 beds. Expected to open this fall.
Planning new construction
Farmingdale State College. Deciding between renovating a vacant dorm building and constructing a new one because of high demand.
Touro Law Center. Working with architects on plans for student housing near the Central Islip campus.
Renovations and campus enhancements
Hofstra University. $9 million spent over the last three years in renovations that include amenities such as free Wi-Fi, fitness centers, upgraded kitchens, play space, fireplaces and lounges with views of the Manhattan skyline. The university is close to hiring a consultant to help design a "college town" on its north campus, near the medical school.
Adelphi University. New washers and dryers, free to students; upgraded bathrooms; replaced furniture; replacement of old technology; fresh painting.
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. $61 million improvement plan was in part used to remodel and upgrade five of six barracks. The final barracks, Cleveland Hall, is to be completed in August.